Personal achievement

What would happen if all of the leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators and achievers decided to leave the United States and set up their own country elsewhere? This is the premise of Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, and it’s an interesting one to explore.

If this happened, America would cease to function. It would suddenly become a leaderless haven of mediocrity with little innovation and advancement. It wouldn’t be long before we were surpassed by most other developed countries, and we’d be doomed to be ever more dependent on more prosperous nations.

America was born of the notion that people were free to be great, and achievers were recognized as the backbone of our society. People appreciated and were inspired by those who were successful.

Who are the achievers? Achievers are innovators. They revolutionize. They break new ground and push the envelope ever further. Achievers constantly push the boundaries of the present and break through to the future.

Not only are they the main contributors to the evolution of society, but they also create jobs for the rest of the population. For as they change and advance the nature of science and industry, they create more work that needs to be done. And in preparing themselves to get those jobs, our workforce grows ever more qualified and competent.

Unlike other countries that have class systems in place from which those born into them will usually never escape, anyone in the United States, whether rich or poor, could come up with the next great invention or idea that propels our society forward. And when they do, they are usually rewarded accordingly.

Achievement is one of the things that make America the greatest country on earth. So much so that people still immigrate to the United States from all over the world.

Unfortunately, there is a growing tide against the achievers that has led us to today.

More and more, it seems, achievers in our country are attacked, blamed, vilified and demonized. This seems to be largely driven by the idea that rich people are inherently evil, greedy, lucky or some combination of the three. Those who have enjoyed success could only have done so, some say, on the backs of the less fortunate.

This view shows a lack of understanding of the people who make this country work. It is people who take chances and start or run businesses that create jobs. These people are not mean-spirited or out to screw others. Having met many successful people in this country, nearly all of them are, in my opinion, friendly, thoughtful, compassionate and smart people.

In fact, like all other people, they’re just people. But they’re also, to a person, some of the most focused and driven people I’ve ever met. And none of them started out wealthy. (Yes, there are exceptions in the world. Some of them cheat and break the law. But more often than not, they - people like Bernie Madoff - are caught.)

There are countless stories in the United States - more so than in any other country - of poor people who, through hard work, opportunism, practice, discipline or any number of other factors have reached their potential and made something of themselves, despite their socio- economic standing.

Indeed, more people in the United States move from poverty or the middle class to upper classes than anywhere else. Yet, too often, those in the middle class and lower classes are encouraged to resent those who enjoy success. By vilifying the achievers, we teach the rest of society that they don’t have what it takes to be an achiever. We teach them that those who have “made it” are lucky and won life’s lottery. Or they’ve somehow sold out. They’ve forgotten their roots.

Too many are convinced by politicians that there are too many obstacles - that the deck is stacked against them. But it’s only by erecting those obstacles can career politicians then present themselves as the solution. You must vote for them to solve your problem.

They then set out to create laws that get even. They raise taxes to take what was “stolen” by the achievers and give it back to those who had it “taken from them.” They build unions that give false power back to the workforce.

It is human nature to see the grass as always being greener. It is common to look at someone else’s circumstances and decide they have it easy, are too powerful, have too much money or don’t deserve what they’ve got. But it is also extremely destructive for the individual who thinks that way and for society as a whole.

There are three hundred million people in the United States alone, and every one of them has their own story. Some started poor and made themselves wealthy. Some started wealthy and lost it all. More commonly, people start somewhere in the middle class and fall some- where near where they started.

Absolutely everybody encounters obstacles and problems in their lives. Everyone deals with failure and enjoys some success - no matter how large or small. People are extremely complex, and a lot happens to a person during the course of their life. Everyone has ups and downs - some mild, some severe. It’s how you deal with it and persevere that determines your happiness.

On an individual level, achievement also brings with it a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Achievement is critical to the health of the individual and therefore, to the mental health of our communities.

And it’s not just making money. Nurses, parents, teachers, volunteers, musicians, artists; they all achieve, but most don’t receive significant monetary rewards.

Conservatives celebrate the achievers and hold them up as examples of how much people can do when driven to pursue greatness. The rewards of accomplishment can inspire people to do things they never knew they could do.

Inspirational figures like a great coach, an inspiring teacher or our parents are sometimes the hardest on us. But by having expectations of us that exceed even our own, they often get more out of us than we think possible. High expectations, inspiration and celebration of achievement are critical to the success of the United States.

Conservatives value achievement. If you see the value on an individual and societal level, you might have more in common with conservatives than you think.